The Buffalo Bills haven’t missed defensive end Shaq Lawson.
Depending on if you’re a glass half-empty or half-full kind of person, that can be taken one of two ways.
The pessimistic point of view is that Lawson did not produce the way a first-round draft pick is counted on to. The optimistic view is that his replacements, Ryan Davis and Eddie Yarbrough, have capably filled in.
Always one to paint a rosy picture, that’s the view Bills coach Sean McDermott took on Monday.
“They’ve both done a really good job,” McDermott said Monday. “In the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen an increased intensity in their play. It starts in practice and you’ve seen that on the game field also. Their production, I believe, has been up. The last couple weeks in particular, they’ve really picked it up. That’s true of our whole team, when guys have gone down, other guys have stepped in, stepped up and have done a good job. I’m proud of the way those two have played.”
Davis led all Bills defensive linemen with six tackles Sunday in a 24-16 win over the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field. He also came up with a sack of Jay Cutler on a third-down play from the Bills’ 8-yard line in the first quarter.
“That sack he made in the red zone yesterday was big for us, to force a field goal,” McDermott said.
Davis, 28, has sacks in back-to-back games. That has come after a heart-to-heart talk with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier a few weeks ago.
“A few weeks ago, I wasn't really feeling it,” Davis said. “My knee was acting up, so mentally my head was in a different space. Ever since then, you know, I think that's when it clicked for me. I've got to put it behind me, fight through whatever I'm going through and take care of myself. For me to put together back-to-back good games, it's been a real big confidence boost, but at the same time I know our work is not done.”
Davis has 25 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble in his first season in Buffalo.
“He’s been in the league a long time, so we just talked about some things that he’s aware of when it comes to performance in our league,” Frazier said of their recent meeting. I’m “really pleased that he has improved his play, which has helped our defense along the way. Losing Shaq Lawson was a big loss for us; Shaq gave us some things that we were concerned we might lose if one of the other guys didn’t step up. Ryan has really stepped up and played well for us over the last few weeks. We’re going to need that over the next couple of weeks as well.”
Davis had played right defensive end for the majority of the season behind Jerry Hughes until Lawson got hurt.
“We knew that Shaq was a key piece of this defense, especially in how he's been playing the run all year,” he said. “We had to step it up over there, so coach told me to go to left. Me and Eddie on the same side, we feed off of each other. Our goal is to continue to do the job Shaq has been doing all year.”
Yarbrough, 24, had two tackles, including one for a loss, Sunday against Miami. He’s been used as more of an every-down player since Lawson’s injury.
“Eddie did a good for us yesterday,” Frazier said. “He’s always a high-energy guy, all over the place, playing hard all the time. He’s become more conscious of playing good run defense, not just being a situational guy, which is, for the most part, what he had been. Now, his snaps have gone up, he’s playing a little bit more on first and second down situations. You have to focus a little bit more on the overall picture, and I think he’s gotten better at that.”
Neither Yarbrough nor Davis have the first-round pedigree of Lawson, but the Bills take pride in being a cast of overlooked characters.
“All we can do is worry about what we do and how we can go out and take that step forward,” Yarbrough said.